“Steady Pushkin, matter-of-fact Tolstoy, restrained Chekhov have all had their moments of irrational insight which simultaneously blurred the sentence and disclosed a secret meaning worth the sudden focal shift,” writes Vladimir Nabokov in his. “But with Gogol this shifting is the very basis of his art.” When, “as in the immortal ‘ ,’ he really let himself go and pottered on the brink of his private abyss, he became the greatest artist that Russia has yet produced.” Tough though that act is to follow, have attempted to adapt for the screen that masterwork of a short story about the outerwear-related struggles of an impoverished bureaucrat.
One particular pair of Russian filmmakers has actually spent a generation or two making their own version of “The Overcoat”: the married couple Yuri Norstein and Francheska Yarbusova, who began the project back in 1981.
Their nineteen-seventies short films Hedgehog in the Fog and Tale of Tales had already received international acclaim from both fans and fellow creators of animation (their champions include no less an auteur than), with distinctively captivating effects achieved through a distinctively painstaking process. Wholly analog, it has grown only more labor-intensive as digital technology has advanced so rapidly over the past few decades — decades that have also brought about great social, political, and economic changes in their homeland.
above offers a glimpse into Norstein and Yarbusova’s lives and work on the “The Overcoat” — to the extent that the two can even be separated at this point. Once, they were victims of Soviet censorship and suspicion, given the ambiguous morals of their visually lavish productions. Now, in their eighties and with this 65-minute-film nowhere near completion (but five minutes of which you can see in ), the problem seems to have more to do with their own artistically commendable but wholly impractical creative ethos. They work to “sadistically high” standards on a film that, as Norstein believes, “should be constantly changing” — while also properly expressing the Gogolian themes of struggle, privation, and futility that can “only be created amid feelings of discomfort and uncertainty” — hence their insistence on staying in Russia.
Based in Seoul,writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter , the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series . Follow him on Twitter at or on .